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Legendary Rockies Riptide WI6+ Climbed in 2021

"It's a psychotic ice climb. It's way out there. Even when it's fat it's still hard"

Photo by: Chris Petrauskas

The Canadian Rockies have a lot of legendary ice climbs, but few as famous Riptide, which has been climbed at WI6 and WI7. The first ascent was in 1987 by Larry Ostrander and Jeff Marshall.

It’s impossible to know how many times Riptide has been climbed, but the first ascent went down in the history books for the team’s bold vision. Riptide was the first grade VII ice route in the world.

Mount Patterson Cirque 2021. Riptide on the far left, Rocket Man on the right  Photo Greg Barrett

Mountain author Chic Scott wrote about the climb in his must-have encyclopedia of Canadian climbing called Pushing the Limits, in which he quoted Marshall as saying, “It’s a five-pitch horror sporting sustained technical climbing on thin and otherwise unprotectable ice. Certainly I climbed some of the hardest pitches I’ve ever done on Riptide. We had five really hard grade V pitches in a row, one after the other – thin, shitty ice, sketchy gear if any gear at all, and huge falls. We called it a VI+ but people insisted it was a VII. It’s a psychotic ice climb. It’s way out there. Even when it’s fat it’s still hard.”

This week, Greg Barrett Nick Baggaley and Chris Petrauskas made an ascent of Riptide. It had been climbed earlier in the winter. Read about an ascent by Jay Mills in 2012 here. Barrett said that “it’s an epic objective in excellent condition, and this is a pretty ideal window for anyone who hasn’t done it to get after it.” On the Rockies ice climbing forum, he wrote:

It was an absolutely wild day that exceeded all expectations. The route is extremely fat right now, and I have to assume it’s in about as easy of condition as it gets. Even so, it was a 4 hour approach, and a total of 18 hours car to car. We climbed it in four pitches, and if I had to throw grades at it I would say WI6, WI5+, WI5+, WI6? The position is spectacular, and the climbing is extremely technical and sustained. There is plenty of v-thread worthy ice to be found for the descent, however protection while leading is often tricky or absent for stretches. Each pitch had huge variety, especially the last, which started with a vertical column of some of the best ice of the day, traversed across snice eggshells, then up a curtain of crystal clear jellyfish, then thinned way out and wandered through rocky features to the edge of the glacier.

We have GPS tracks, but you’re probably better off using satellite imagery to guide you to the obvious drainage leading into the alpine. Don’t ascend the ridge of the moraine, it’s a spine and very unpleasant. Nick and Chris got their skis all the way to the base of the route with some bootpacking, and descended the entire way on them. I cached skis before a rock choke a few hundred metres from the base of the route, which is a much easier but less fun option. From the car, 4 km, 650 m to base. Snowpack in the alpine varied from a knife hardness windslab to a punchy wallow. None of snow that we traveled on raised any particular concerns, except that we did see the powder cloud from an avalanche down the tongue of the glacier in the morning, and heard a serac fall trigger something at night. Temps were milder than expected, and while we saw occasional wind the in valley, it was generally still on route.

Riptide is a serious objective with big hazards above and below. Be sure you have your avalanche gear and skills up to par before heading into avalanche terrain. For some lightweight avi gear for ice climbers see here.

Chris Petrauskas, Nick Baggerly and Greg Barrett on Riptide in January 2021

Mount Patterson Winter Climbs

Riptide is found on Mount Patterson on the Icefields Parkway. There are a number of other winter ice/mixed routes in the area, including Le Lezard d’Or VI WI6+ 200m, Shadow VI WI6+R M6 220m (FA Jon Walsh, Caroline Ware, 2006), Tsunami VI M5 WI5+ 300m, Rocket Man VI M7+ WI5+ 350m, Rocket Baby VI M8+ WI5+X and Squirt V WI6+R 120m.

Tsunami was first climbed by Raphael Slawinski and Joshua Lavigne in 2011. Lavigne made a film about their FA, and said, “At first glance it looks like it is threatened by seracs but up close they seem fairly benign. We climbed the route in 6 pitches. To access the ice we climbed 3 very alpine like pitches with thin ice and scrappy mixed climbing. Once we were established on the icer, three sustained pitches brought us to the top of the seracs. An amazing day out and a classic alpine ice route.”

And Slawinski said, “The route lies on the wall right of Riptide, and when formed is obvious. The first two pitches trend first right, then back left, on steep snow and low-angled rock, to a snowfield. On the first ascent the ice did not come all the way down to the snow, and was accessed by climbing a loose but well-protected crack system on the left. The final three pitches climb gradually thickening ice to – and through – the serac barrier. The serac capping the route appears to be benign, but one never knows with seracs.”




Lead photo: Chris Petrauskas